Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) was an attorney in private practice in 1995 when her insurance company forced her to leave the hospital one day after giving birth to her daughter.
She was very sick, she couldnt swallow and I was kicked out of the hospital at 24 hours with no sleep and thinking she was going to die, Klobuchar recalled in an interview last week.
Incensed, she convinced the state Legislature to pass one of the nations first laws mandating 48-hour hospital stays for new mothers, a principle that has since been enshrined in federal law.
The experience, coupled with her subsequent eight-year tenure as prosecutor for Minnesotas largest county, taught Klobuchar two principles she says have guided her Senate work, including her time as the new chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Childrens Health: You can reform government to make it do better, and you can stand up for people and fight for them, she said.
Klobuchar, 49, has applied both lessons since becoming Minnesotas first elected female Senator in 2006, when she arrived in Washington, D.C., as a relative political novice.
I came out in my Saturn with my daughter in the back seat and the college dishes and the shower curtain from 1985, she recalled, laughing. But what she may have lacked in inside-the-Beltway knowledge, she made up for with real-world expertise.
I think I brought to the Senate some practicality in dealing with everyday issues, she said. At a child-safety hearing, Ill be the only one in the committee room who knows whats it like to have your baby in the car seat and it suddenly falls over in the back seat.
In addition to tending to Minnesota-specific matters, Klobuchar has used her diverse committee assignments which include EPW, Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, Commerce, Science and Transportation and Judiciary to press broader consumer protection reforms.
Last year, she worked with Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) to negotiate landmark legislation banning lead in childrens toys. The law includes product-labeling provisions Klobuchar authored making it easier for parents to identify recalled items.
In 2007, then-President George W. Bush signed legislation boosting pool-safety standards that Klobuchar wrote after a 6-year-old Minnesota girl named Abigail Taylor was seriously injured by a pool drain.
Her family called Klobuchars cell phone every week believing that Washington could do something about this, and in the end, they were right, she said. Taylor later died of her injuries.
As chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Childrens Health, Klobuchar is planning to investigate a host of issues affecting children, including the environmental connections to asthma and autism.
The panel also has jurisdiction over legislation introduced last month by Klobuchar and Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) that would impose a new health standard for formaldehyde, a chemical used in wood products that can be toxic at elevated levels.
Both the Subcommittee on Childrens Health and her seat on the Agriculture panel also mesh nicely with her interest in fighting childhood obesity. Kids waistlines are getting wider and their recesses are getting shorter. They dont have any places to walk. ... There just hasnt been enough focus on exercise as well as nutrition, she said.